Johnson C. Smith UniversityLifestyle

JCSU Celebrates Afro Latino Culture

Food, Language, History: It was a celebration of Afro Latino history and culture on the campus of Johnson College Smith University, February 2024. The City of Charlotte, Fiestas Patrias and Johnson C. Smith University sponsored the event to commemorate Black History Month in the Latino and Black communities.

Patriotism was center stage from the start: the crowd stood tall as the American flag waved on screen. The individuals gathered in the New Science Center’s Truist Atrium at Johnson C. Smith University were a blended population: mothers and fathers, students and teachers, community leaders and neighbors, English speakers and Spanish speakers. They gathered with a goal: unity and connection. The crowd placed hands over hearts and sang the National Anthem. The colloquium about culture began. 

Charlotte City Council member, Marjorie Molina, read a declaration from Mayor Vi Lyles. In it, Lyles declared Feb. 15, 2024, Afro Latino Heritage Day. Sheriff Gary McFadden, an alumnus of Johnson C. Smith University, offered these words: “I don’t live in fear. I am free.” 

Freedom was the focus of the day. Cultural understanding was presented as an antidote to fear. 

Dr. Mario Bahena, associate professor of Spanish at Johnson C. Smith University, was one of the event organizers. He says the mission was clear: “to demonstrate that JCSU is open to Latinos. We can come together as a community.” Fiestas Patrias, the City of Charlotte and JCSU have been holding the annual event for 7 years to share the Afro-Latino experience with the entire Charlotte community. Participants hail from Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil and other countries.

JCSU student, Islaea Anderson – a Psychology major – says she came for one reason. “I want to learn more about African-Latino history.” 

JCSU social work major, Janiyah Hamilton says, ” I think the history is very interesting. I have friends who are Hispanic. I want to learn more about the Afro-Latino experience.”

Messages about freedom and fairness emerged from the podium. Local community leader Federico Rios, vice president of the Foundation for the Carolinas, shared a story of his Afro-Latino Puerto Rican heritage. Images from his childhood flashed on the screen: la abuela (grandmother), young Federico, and his Puerto Rican family. Rios talked about mulatez in Puerto Rico.  It is a country with a blended demographic of Spanish, African and Taino people. African history in Puerto Rico dates back to the 16th century. Rios reflected on perceptions of the United States from his grandmother’s perspective: percolating ideas of race emerged. 

Throughout the Afro-Latinos event, a live translator on site served as a cultural bridge. She was tucked in a corner of the room in the New Science Center’s Truist Auditorium. She offered spontaneous Spanish-to-English translation. Her words, streaming headset by headset, became a unifying play-by-play.  

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